A working class artist comments on a telling aspect of the final conference in the Interrupt series on Socially Engaged Art Practice. Arts Council 2003

I've just got the voluminous transcript of the Baltic sessions of Interrupt! Thanks. This laborious process seems to connote an inclusive, comprehensive reflection of the discussions that took place. But it is suprising how quickly the hegemonic processes of exclusion cut in.

My own 'hopes and fears' (things we were asked to write on cards) that mention the dreaded word CLASS are dropped from the typed lists of Hopes and Fears. They are included in the photocopies of our handwritten stickers but excluded from the formal typed list. Surely a simple mistake I hear you say. . .

But odd that the only mentions of class in both categories of Hopes and Fears should be dropped. No it is by such micro 'errors' and blanks that hegemony is constructed. The higher level management of the Arts Council doesn't have to step in to edit or censor because the construct is so built into our society local cultural admin workers will do it themselves without thinking.

It is a serious point because at the Baltic, our first chance of free discourse, exclusion was already visually evident in the very few black people present. And absence of black people can be taken as an index of the absence of working class people.

The translation from the oral form of slogans on stickers to the formal list reflects the historical pattern of exclusion as culture moves from oral forms and communities to the more literary and formal knowledges. This is built into the very mechanism of western cultures.

Of course this oppression is internalised in me as well. I spoke up (It feels like blurting out) but clearly did not formulate my views into the right media to force them onto the agenda. My own lack of confidence and strategic clarity, and fear contributes to this failure. Other transcriptions of my sticker slogans that do not mention class directly are included but edited so my statements seem more bland. E.g. a scribbled 'Fear'; "That the state will use all we say to tighten the systemic noose ARGHHH" is transcribed as "That the state will use all we say to tighten the systematic noose".

The discussion of Socially Engaged Art Practice happens in the context of the Arts Councils policy rhetoric of Social Inclusion An important discursive justification of the spending of public money on the arts. The need for social inclusion would be agreed by most of us. But then how can social inclusion be construed as anything other than primarily an issue of social class oppression and so how can SEAP be discussed without considering class? It seems the simplest logic to me but this is the point where I experience a collective blankness around me.

I s'pose I sound like some old Seventies throwback still banging on about class and oppression! I'm well aware that the limitations of clear thinking and communication here are ones of stale language. Much has been understood about oppression since the Seventies but social control has also been notched up.

Working class and black artists need to be leading any discussions about cultural /social inclusion policies and the support of their practice that goes in this direction. It is also they that must be able to formulate the conditions of safety in which social thinking is possible and discourses can multiply.


  Stefan Szczelkun